Al Ater

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Alan Ray Ater​


Louisiana State Representative
for District 21 (now Concordia,
East Carroll, Madison,
and Tensas parishes)​
In office
1984 ​ – 1992​
Preceded by William B. Atkins​
Succeeded by Bryant Hammett​

Acting Louisiana Secretary of State​
In office
July 2005​ – November 2006​
Preceded by Walter Fox McKeithen​
Succeeded by John Leigh "Jay" Dardenne, Jr.​

Born December 15, 1953​
Decatur, Illinois
Died ​May 21, 2017 (aged 63)
Houston, Texas
Resting place Natchez (Mississippi) City Cemetery
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) (1) (Not available; divorced)​

(2) Susie Beard Ater ​

Children Whitney Lauren Ater​

Thomas Alan Ater
​ Elliott Andrew Ater​
Parents:
Donald Edward Ater
Ruth LaVonne Chapman Ater Wedam

Residence Ferriday, Concordia Parish, Louisiana, USA
Alma mater Huntington High School​

Northwestern State University

Occupation Farmer; Businessman
Religion United Methodist

Alan Ray Ater (December 15, 1953 – May 21, 2017), known as Al Ater, was a farmer and businessman from Ferriday in Concordia Parish, Louisiana, who served from 1984 to 1992 as a Democratic member of the Louisiana House of Representatives for istrict 21 in the eastern portion of his state.[1] He served as interim secretary of state from 2005 through November 2006. He received praise for his handling of the New Orleans mayoral primary in early 2006, when the city was still disrupted from the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

Background

A native of Decatur in Macon County in central Illinois, Ater was the youngest of five children of Donald Edward Ater (1923–1974)[2] and the former Ruth LaVonne Chapman (1920-2004).

Their mother Ruth Chapman attended Lindenwood College for Women in St. Charles, Missouri. The Aters married, farmed in the area about Cisco, Illinois, and owned International Harvester dealerships in Kankakee and Oreana, Illinois.​[3]

In 1957, the Aters purchased the Coola Coosa Plantation near Tallulah, Louisiana, on Lake St. John, an oxbow lake on the Mississippi River. They founded and operated Ater Warehouse, Inc., and the Don Ater Chevrolet dealership in Ferriday. While the Aters resided in Tallulah in Madison Parish, Mrs. Ater became involved in the American National Cattlewomen's Organization, formerly the CowBelles. She was both Madison Parish and the statewide president of the organization. In 1975, as the national CowBelles president, she organized and chartered groups in thirteen states and spoke at state conventions in thirty-nine states. She headed the committee that wrote the history of the organization. Mrs. Ater was one of three women inducted into the Louisiana Spur Club for contributions to the cattle industry. After the death of her first husband, Donald Ater, Ruth married Fred Joseph Wedam (1916–1991) of Klamath Falls, Oregon. She lived with Fred in Oregon until after his death and then returned to Ferriday for her final years.[3]

Al Ater graduated in 1971 from the private Huntington High School in Ferriday, founded the previous year after the public schools were desegregated. Ferriday High School became nearly all-black in pupil registration. He attended Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.​ ​

Public office

First elected at the age of twenty-nine in the 1983 nonpartisan blanket primary, Ater filled the House seat vacated by William B. Atkins, a freshman Democrat from Jonesville in Catahoula Parish. Atkins had defeated Democratic state Senator Dan Richey of Ferriday. Ater was unopposed for a second term in 1987 but did not run in the primary held in October 1991. He was succeeded by fellow Democrat Bryant Hammett, an engineer, also from Ferriday.​ ​ In 2001, Ater became the first assistant in the office of Louisiana Secretary of State Walter Fox McKeithen (1946-2005), a Democrat-turned-Republican and his friend since their legislative days. Ater was influential in merging the elections department into the secretary of state’s office.[4]​ ​ In 2004, Ater joined the Department of Insurance under commissioner J. Robert Wooley, a Democrat. In March 2005, he returned to McKeithen's office as first assistant. Four months later, upon McKeithen's untimely death from an accidental fall earlier in the year, Ater was appointed as the interim secretary of state.[4]

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

As secretary of state, Ater was called upon to monitor the municipal elections in New Orleans held some eight months after Hurricane Katrina, when the city was still struggling to recover and had many former residents living elsewhere. The primary election was to have been conducted on February 4, 2006. Newspaperman Sam Hanna, Jr. (born 1969), of the Ouachita Citizen in West Monroe, said that Ater ​

"oversaw probably the cleanest mayor's election in modern times in New Orleans' long, fabled history. ... He mowed down the political establishment on both sides of the aisle, which tried in vain to manipulate the election process in the Crescent City for its own selfish reasons. Yes, Ater stood out as a leader with a backbone among a host of local and state officials, who, quite frankly, have appeared spineless throughout the catastrophe caused by Katrina."[5]

Former Secretary of State James H. "Jim" Brown, also a Ferriday native, said that he believed the elections could have been held on February 4 and that the delays sought by Ater were unnecessary. Brown said polling locations could be moved as needed and that voting machines could be located elsewhere as required. As secretary of state, Ater questioned a provision of Louisiana law which had required a voter who registered by mail to cast his ballot in person at least once before he could file an absentee ballot. "I could see the headlines across America right now, They'll say it's another thing that Louisiana can't handle on its own," Ater said.[6] The law had been intended to protect against voter fraud, but Ater said the hurricane had temporarily changed the dynamics of voting.[6]​ ​ Ater's handling of the election was honored by the Louisiana chapter of Common Cause. Also feted was state Senator Walter Boasso of St. Bernard Parish, who consolidated the actions of the affected levee boards following the hurricane.[7]

Ater served until November 2006, when he was succeeded by Moderate Republican John Leigh "Jay" Dardenne, Jr., the winner of the special election to fill the vacancy left by McKeithen. Ater was not a candidate in the special election.​ ​

Legacy

Al Ater farmed corn, cotton, and soybeans through his Lakeland Planting Company.[8] He served on the board of the Concordia Parish Farm Bureau and Catalyst Energy in Vidalia.[4] He has also farmed near Waterproof in southern Tensas Parish.[9]​ ​ Ater was an active Democratic Party member, having contributed in 2008 to the campaigns of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, the congressional campaign of Paul Carmouche of Shreveport, senatorial candidate Ronnie Musgrove of Mississippi, and for the defeated Democrat Don Cazayoux in the Baton Rouge-based 6th congressional district.[10]​ ​

Ater and his second wife, the former Susie Beard (born 1958), a pharmacist originally from Vidalia, live on Lake St. John near Ferriday. From a first marriage, he has a daughter, Whitney Lauren Ater (born 1978) of California. From his second marriage, he has two sons, Thomas Alan (born 1987), and Elliott Andrew Ater (born 1989). Thomas manages the family farming operation while Elliott attended college.​ ​ Sam Hanna, Jr. (born 1969), son of the late publisher Samuel Andrew "Sam" Hanna, Sr. (1933-2006), commented on why Ater walked away from ​

a promising political career more than 20 years in the making [to] head home to Concordia Parish -- to Ferriday -- to farm some six thousand acres of land and tend to his other business interests? Well, Ater's no fool, and he recognized a dead-end job when he saw it in serving as secretary of state, especially on the heels of his performance during one of Louisiana's darkest moments. It's always best to leave while you're on top.[5]

​In 2009, Ater was among inductees honored in the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[11]​ ​

References

  1. Membership in the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812-2008. house.louisiana.gov. Retrieved on December 23, 2009.
  2. Donald Edward Ater. tmsociety.org. Retrieved on December 23, 2009.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Obituary of Ruth LaVonne Chapman Ater Wedam. rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved on December 23, 2009.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Our Campaigns: Ater, Al. ourcampaigns.com. Retrieved on December 24, 2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 What’s Big Al to do next?". Ouachitacitizen.com (July 20, 2006). Retrieved on December 23, 2009.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Al Ater: Courts may take over election if law unchanged. Katrinacoverage.com. Retrieved on December 23, 2009.
  7. Louisiana Common Cause Advocate. commoncause.org. Retrieved on December 23, 2009.
  8. Al Ater. linkedin.com. Retrieved on December 23, 2009.
  9. Waterproof, Louisiana, Political Contributions by Individuals. city-data.com. Retrieved on December 23, 2009.
  10. Al Ater: Political Campaign Contributions, 2008. campaignmoney.com. Retrieved on December 23, 2009.
  11. Political Hall of Fame: Al Ater. Retrieved on December 23, 2009.

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